Commissioner unloads on Avery

Gary Bettman speaks on Tuesday. Bettman, the NHL Commishioner didn't mince his words when it came...

Gary Bettman speaks on Tuesday. Bettman, the NHL Commishioner didn't mince his words when it came to talking about Sean Avery. (Amber Bracken\Sun Media)

TERRY JONES, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:20 AM ET

Gary Bettman wasn't guilty of trash talking.

But on a day when he came to Edmonton and made several strong statements, he produced his strongest, harshest, most personal comments yet on the subject of Sean Avery.

Speaking at an Edmonton Chamber of Commerce luncheon, the NHL Commissioner didn't dodge the topic.

"What Sean Avery said was wrong. It was offensive. It was disgusting. We have a lot of women who are fans and to be perfectly honest I wouldn't want to have to explain to my 12-year-old daughter what he said," the commissioner told the Chamber.

Bettman, suspended Avery for an unprecedented six games for a verbal offence when he referred to his ex-girl friend entertainer Elisha Cuthbert, who is dating Edmonton native Dion Phaneuf of the Calgary Flames, as "sloppy seconds."

He told the gathering the obviously pre-planned brief comment made Dec. 2 in Calgary couldn't be considered with trash talk during the game.

"It was a direct public statement and we're not going to tolerate it!"

The commissioner said Avery was a repeat offender.

"He's been very close to the line and across the line," he said, adding there have been other statements claimed only "we couldn't substantiate them.

"Enough was enough!"

He also said the league wants to get the message to hockey fans that despite a world where any publicity seems to be considered good publicity, that isn't the case with his league.

In a press conference following the luncheon, Bettman also applauded the Dallas Stars for the way they handled the controversial player after completing the suspension.

He said Dallas handled it perfectly by cutting loose the problem player in the manner they chose.

"They're supportive of him getting the counselling he's getting, they are continuing to pay his contract and I think it became obvious that it was an uncomfortable situation for everybody so they all decided to move on.

"It was a very professional way to handle it."

Bettman, at first, delivered a speech to the audience then was joined by Chicago Blackhawks GM Dale Tallon and Oilers hockey boss Kevin Lowe on the stage to take questions.

His response to Avery came from one of the questions.

During his visit he also dealt with several other subjects.

He said he knows people are viewing him as "a Pollyanna" and as someone who has "lost his mind" when he makes statements right now about the NHL in terms of the economy.

He repeated his statements from last week that the league, right at this moment, is thriving with both higher attendance and television ratings. And he says the NHL is unique in having returned from shutting down for a year to returning to do record business for four consecutive years.

He also revealed yesterday that he didn't expect the salary cap to go up or down "one million or two either way" next year.

"I've also been saying right after I make those comments that when it comes to next year, I don't know. But I never hear that sound bite."

He said most of the NHL's business, in terms of season ticket sales, suite sales and corporate sponsorship was done before the economic crisis kicked in."

Bettman also produced some statistics, claiming that up to last weekend there had been 51 games where the winning team trailed by two goals at one point while at the same time last year, that had happened in 33 games.

"Our product is vital, it's vibrant," he said. "But I am concerned how things could turn out next year because nobody knows."


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